Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Tiny House Prototype that meets 2015 IRC Minimum Area Requirements

The shell for the 8'x16' prototype dwelling is near complete, and I'm now looking at interior layouts within the minimum requirements set by the 2015 International Residential Code (IRC). The structure is roughly twice the size of the units at Opportunity Village, and will include provisions for a small bathroom and kitchen. They will also be better insulated with rigid foam and an improved modular panelization technique that reduces air breaks.

Material costs to get the structure to this level of finish amounted to $4,025.73 (interior paneling not shown).
Note that this is still our prototyping phase and not necessarily exactly what the houses at Emerald will look like. 
With 2'x4' walls, the interior area comes out to 103 square feet, which just barely meets IRC under the following interpretation. Applicable code for interior area and height includes:

R304.1 Minimum area. 
Every dwelling unit shall have at least one habitable room that shall have not less than 120 square feet (11 m2) of gross floor area. ***Note: this requirement has been removed in the 2015 IRC thanks to a proposed changed change by Tom Meyer

R304.2 Other rooms. 
Other habitable rooms shall have a floor area of not less than 70 square feet (6.5 m2). Exception: Kitchens. 

R304.3 Minimum dimensions. 
Habitable rooms shall not be less than 7 feet (2134 mm) in any horizontal dimension. Exception: Kitchens. 

R304.4 Height effect on room area. 
Portions of a room with a sloping ceiling measuring less than 5 feet (1524 mm) or a furred ceiling measuring less than 7 feet (2134 mm) from the finished floor to the finished ceiling shall not be considered as contributing to the minimum required habitable area for that room.

R306.1 Toilet facilities. 
Every dwelling unit shall be provided with a water closet, lavatory, and a bathtub or shower. 

R307.1 Space required. 
Bathroom fixtures shall be spaced in accordance with Figure R307.1
- 30"x30" minimum shower size
- 21" clearance in front of toilet and sink (can overlap)
- 24" clearance for shower door
- 15" from center of toilet to side wall

R306.2 Kitchen. 
Each dwelling unit shall be provided with a kitchen area and every kitchen area shall be provided with a sink. 

I find no requirement that the sleeping area or kitchen must be in separate rooms, and instead could be combined in a "studio" arrangement.

So I believe it could be legitimately argued that a minimum legal area by 2015 IRC standards could be as small as one habitable room of 70 sq. ft. with sleeping area and kitchen, plus a bathroom as small as 18 sq. ft. while meeting minimum spacing requirements.

The sleeping area cannot be lofted legally since the loft will be a non-habitable space (due to area and height requirements for a habitable room). However the loft can still be added with an intended use for storage, and there are no access requirements in the code for non-habitable spaces. That point is verified here by one of the authors of the IRC:

"If you are ever challenged on the use of a ladder for non-habitable loft, be assured that the code allows it by default. Intentionally, there are no requirements for non-habitable loft access. I know this as I am the one that wrote this code section as it is currently provided for in the 2009 IRC. Fresh from the horse's mouth...not its posterior."

The above layout includes a 19.5 sq. ft. bathroom designed around a 32'x32' shower with 24" clearance in front of opening. And a toilet with 24" depth and 21" clearance (required clearance for bathroom fixtures can overlap). The only thing it fails to include is a sink with 21" clearance, but I couldn't bring myself to include that since there is a sink just a couple feet away. But I can foresee the issue being raised that sanitation and cooking are two separate water uses and require two sinks. If this has to be the case, a very small sink (such as this) could fit along the back wall if necessary.

The bathroom and living space are divided by a bifold door with a loft overhead. This room just barely meets the 70 sq. ft. at 7 ft. wide requirement (the bump out does not count as habitable space since it is less than 7 ft. wide.) The kitchen counter with sink is located on the same wall as the shower to cluster plumbing fixtures. The bed could be replaced by a futon for added function.

Overall this layout illustrates a minimalist approach to accommodating the minimum area and functions of a dwelling as defined by the 2015 IRC. I often hear people voice the need to change the building code, but its important to note that it has indeed been changing for the better (of tiny house builders) in the last few years, and it really is not that restricting. 

Municipalities often include area requirements above and beyond that, and those need to be challenged. Why exactly does our locale need standards above and beyond the national standard? And what exactly is that protecting? Given that the intent of the building code is to protect the health, safety, and well-being of occupants—and not surrounding property values—these questions are difficult to answer.

Moving the prototype from the shop to Opportunity Village.
Finishing out the exterior on site.


You can donate to Opportunity Village Eugene, the 501(c)3 non-profit developing the Emerald Village tiny house community, here:

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Broken Windows Theory Revisted

A recent story on The Takeaway caught my attention. It features George Kelling revisiting his controversial "Broken Windows" theory more than three decades after he first coined the term.

"Architect of 'Broken Windows' Defends His Theory"

Source: The Atlantic

This was of interest because in Tent City Urbanism I use the "Broken Windows" to frame the conflict of "controlling and reclaiming space" that occurs between municipalities and informal tent cities organized by the homeless. Here's an excerpt from the book:

"The theory suggests a strict enforcement of “quality of life crimes”
such as panhandling, loitering, and public intoxication or urination—
with the idea that these acts infringe on the quality of life for others in
the city. The phrase is quite ironic since many of these crimes are actually
a consequence of the quality of life of the offender. In the past, these
minor acts had been commonly overlooked in urban areas in order to
concentrate policing efforts on more severe crimes. However, the broken
windows theory asserts that it is in fact these minor crimes that lead
criminals to believe they can get away with much more serious crimes
like rape, murder, and theft. So by eliminating petty crimes, a city could
in turn prevent more violent crimes. The widespread acceptance of this
premise marks a drastic shift from 'servicing' toward 'policing' as a
method for managing the issue of homelessness...

...the endorsement of the broken windows theory suggests that
these informal [tent city] settlements are robbing a certain degree of 
quality of life from the surrounding, housed community. Furthermore, 
the settlements thwart the efforts by formal design to establish predictable
behavior. As a result, laws and strategies have been adopted to disrupt
these acts of necessity, exiling those without a right to space in the city
to an itinerant lifestyle.

However, the kind of informal tent community that I am describing
actually returns some quality of life to the population within, and by
applying the same logic behind the broken windows theory positively,
this benefits the surrounding population as well. Simply allowing for a
legal place to reside—even with the most meager provisions of shelter—
reduces negative, external impacts on the city."

This last piece—that it can reduce negative impacts on the city—was recently supported by Seattle Mayor Ed Murray:

“Permitted encampments are not, in my view, a long-term strategy to end homelessness,” Murray said in announcing the measure. “But planned, organized encampments have less impact on our neighborhoods and provide a safer environment than what we see on our streets today.” 

But back to Broken Windows, my perspective of the theory was shaped by the social policy that has since transpired from this ideology. So it was quite interesting to hear Kelling's contemporary take on what has become a controversial approach. He defends his theory but also emphasizes that there is much more to consider when applying it to the actual practice of law enforcement...

“We were fearful of [negative consequences] from the very beginning,” he says. “The history of the use of loitering laws and vagrancy laws is a very sad history. It was used during the post-Civil War period and into the 20th century to keep many African-Americans in virtual slavery. We understood that it had enormous potential for abuse.”

When grappling with questions of justice and equity, the authors wrote, “How do we ensure, in short, that the police do not become the agents of neighborhood bigotry?”

“We were raising these issues out of concern that, as ‘broken windows’ ideas worked their way into policy, that it had to be done with considerable concern for how discretion was used and that it was used appropriately,” says Kelling. “We expected even then that it was a powerful tool, and like many other powerful tools, that it had capacity for abuse and misuse.”

“For me, ‘broken windows’ has always been... a tactic under community policing,” he says. “Police operate on behalf of citizens. They have to work with citizens.”

Kelling says that the consequences will be great if police departments solely work in the name of getting more arrests or driving crime down.